Getting Your Financial Ducks In A Row Rotating Header Image

A Social Security Hat Trick for $24,000

hat trickDid you know that even with the new Social Security rules, it’s possible to work out a strategy to maximize your Social Security benefits? There are options still available (if you were born before 1954) that can provide you with some vestiges of the old “get some now, get more later” option.

Since the restricted application option is still open for those born on or before January 1, 1954, a married couple can still work this strategy to their advantage to maximize benefits.

Here’s how it works:

Jessica and Robert are both age 66 this year. Robert’s Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA, is $1,000 per month. This is the amount of benefits he’d receive if he files for his Social Security benefit upon reaching age 66. Jessica’s PIA is $2,600 per month.

Robert files for his benefit when he turns 66 in June. Jessica reaches age 66 on her birthday in August. At that time, since Robert has filed for his Social Security benefit, Jessica is eligible to file a restricted application for spousal benefits, receiving $500 per month, 50% of Robert’s PIA. So Robert and Jessica are receiving a total of $1,500 per month at this point, and they continue to do so for the next four years.

When Jessica reaches age 70, her Social Security benefit has maximized due to the earned delay credits. When she files, she’s eligible for $3,432 per month, a 32% increase from her PIA. At the same time, now that Jessica has filed, Robert is eligible for a spousal benefit based on Jessica’s record. This means that Robert can file for the spousal “excess” benefit – which is calculated as:

50% of Jessica’s PIA ($1,300) minus Robert’s PIA ($1,000) = $300

This $300 is then added to Robert’s current benefit, and he now can receive a monthly benefit of $1,300. So together, Robert and Jessica will now receive a total of $4,732 per month.

Regardless of which of the two dies first, the smaller benefit (Robert’s) will cease, and the larger benefit (Jessica’s) will continue. So the benefit that was maximized by delaying will be paid out for the longest period of time – to the death of the second-to-die of the couple.

While maximizing the larger benefit, Robert and Jessica were able to receive four years’ worth of benefits at $1,500 per month. Then upon maximizing Jessica’s benefit, Robert received a step-up for spousal excess benefits. This strategy results in $24,000 more benefits for the couple.


  1. Paul says:

    I was born in May 1952, my wife in April 1958. If she applies for her benefit($600) in April 2020, will I be able to apply a restricted application in May 2020? My benefit at age 66 is $2730. I thought the restricted application option expires in 2019??

    Thank you.

    1. jblankenship says:

      I haven’t seen anything about an expiration of the restricted application. Since you were born before 1954 you should have that option available to you. I suggest calling SSA to confirm, however.

  2. Madelyn White says:

    I have a question to see if this ‘tactic’ would be beneficial to my situation. Both my husband and I will turn 66 in February 2018. I was thinking of waiting until 70 for the both of us. Here are the stats. I will be receiving at 66 $2,230.00, my husband $2,428.00. If I take the full benefit at 66 and my husband files for the restricted application we would receive $3,444.00 a month? Then at age 70, my husband would receive 3,204.96 plus my 2,230 a month. Would their also be a spousal excess benefit in my case as the discrepancy in our benefits are so minimal?
    Please be so kind and let me know, I would certainly appreciate it as I will need to file shortly. Thank you for getting the word out

    1. jblankenship says:

      The tactic you’ve described is completely valid, up to the question about spousal excess for you once your husband files for his own benefit at age 70. There would be no spousal benefit for you since you have filed for your own benefit and that benefit is more than 50% of your husband’s FRA benefit amount.

    2. Madelyn White says:

      Thank you very much

  3. Rob R. says:

    Is it possible for a 67 y/o widow to file a restricted application for their own benefits, while continuing to work, and then at age 70 switch to her deceased spouse’s benefit (who would have also reached age 70 by then had he lived)? Or, is this a program that allows for only the restricted filing for benefits of the spouse and not the person directly? Thx.

    1. jblankenship says:

      The strategy you outlined would be allowed, but it’s probably not the most effective. This is due to the fact that, other than annual COLAs, her Survivor Benefit will not increase past her age 66. If her Survivor Benefit is greater than her own benefit (and always would be), she should take the Survivor Benefit now. Nothing is gained from her starting with her own benefit now, and in fact she’s be leaving benefit money on the table.

  4. James Daley says:

    HI. I turn 66 in January, 2018 and plan to file an RA and take 50% of my spouse benefit; she took her age 66 (full age) benefit earlier in 2017. Then let my own benefit increase by 8% per year. WHen do I need to file if I want my spousal benefit to commence in February, 2018?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Generally the advice is to file up to 3 months prior to your benefit start date. So likely anytime from November onward should be sufficient.

  5. Robert Mar says:

    My wife, born 11/21/1948, started her SS benefits of $830 at FRA. I , born 2/3/1950, filed and suspended my SS benefits of $2580 at FRA. My wife filed for spousal benefits at my FRA, and started receiving 1/2 of my benefit amount.
    I wanted to also file for spousal benefits on my wife’s account, but was told this was not permitted, because only 1 spouse is permitted to file a Restricted Application for spousal benefits. Is this still the case?

    I was at a retirement seminar and thought the speaker said both spouses can file an RA for spousal benefits.


    1. jblankenship says:

      Only one spouse can file for spousal benefits at a time, regardless of whether the application is restricted. This is due to the fact that, in order to file for spousal benefits the other spouse must have filed for his or her benefits. If the other spouse has filed for his or her benefits and the first spouse is receiving a spousal benefit, the “excess” benefit is eliminated.

      Working through your own example: Your wife filed for her own benefit. You filed for your benefit (and suspended). This enabled your wife to file for excess spousal benefits, since her own PIA (FRA benefit) is less than 50% of your PIA. ($2580 X 50% = $1,290 which is greater than her PIA of $830, so her total benefit is the $830 plus the excess spousal benefit of $460, for a total of $1,290).

      Since your wife has filed for her benefit, technically you are eligible for a spousal benefit. However, if we do the math we come up with a negative (and therefore zero) excess spousal benefit: $830 X 50% = $415, which is less than $2,580 (your PIA). If we subtract your PIA from $415 we get $-2,165, and since you probably wouldn’t like a negative benefit, the spousal excess for you is equated to zero.

      Hope this helps –

  6. E Leddy says:

    Hi there. Situation- One of us is 66 and the other is 65 with very close lifetime earnings. Can the 66 year old file for spousal benefits under the 65 year old’s benefits before reaching FRA and starting to collect SS?

    The 65 year old has potential serious health issues and originally we were going to wait for at least one of us to be 70 before collecting. I know each case is different but think we should file for one of us or both in some shape or form. The healthier one is older by 10 months. Any insights would be appreciated!

    1. jblankenship says:

      If the younger spouse has filed for benefits and the older is over Full Retirement Age (and born before 1954) the older can file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, delaying his or her own benefits until as late as age 70.

      If the younger dies before the older reaches age 70, the surviving spouse would also be eligible to receive a survivor benefit equal to the amount of benefit that the younger was receiving, continuing to delay his or her own benefit up to age 70.

      1. E Leddy says:

        Thank you Jim for answering my inquiry. Based on your response then it seems my spouse(65) might consider applying for reduced SS benefits now before FRA (66) in order for me to apply for spousal benefits. I’m 66 and not collecting, nor is he. This way the older one, God willing, would reach 70 before the younger one and we’d be receiving reduced amounts for the 65 year old and I’d potentially receive half of what he will start collecting now while mine was deferred.

        Based on health concerns then it makes more sense to go the above route versus the 66 year old applying now and the 65 year old applying for spousal benefits soon thereafter. Thanks again.

        1. jblankenship says:

          That sounds like a great strategy.

  7. lee says:

    Hi! In your example of jessica and Robert in the article: if Robert files his own benefits at 65, not at 66, and Jessica files for spousal benefits at 66, can Robert still file for the spousal benefits when Jessica reaches 70? if Robert is, is it better for Robert to file for his benefits as early as at 62 ?

    1. jblankenship says:

      In your example, when Robert files at his age 65 he will receive a reduced benefit, approximately $933 per month. Then when Jessica files for her benefit later, Robert would receive the Spousal increase (calculated in the original example at $300) for a total benefit of $1,233, not the full $1,300.

      Taken further, if Robert filed for his own benefit at age 62 he’d receive the maximum reduction to $750 per month, and after adding the spousal benefit he’d receive a total of $1,050.

      Is this better? That’s an individual call. During that period of time between age 62 and 70 he would have received more benefits, but if he lives much beyond approximately age 80 the delayed option is better for him.

  8. John Dayton says:

    Finally and example that fits my situation. My wife turned 66 (FRA) August 2016 with a PIA of $1288 but didn’t file for her monthly benefit until January 2017 which is $1330. I turn 66 (FRA) this March 2017. My PIA is $2168. My intent is to restricted file for spousal benefit which I understand will be 50% of my wife’s PIA or $644, and let my benefit earn delayed credits until I turn 70. My question is how do I file the restricted application for spousal benefit only? If I start the application online there is a message that says the date I start the application may be used until July as the application date. I am now concerned that if I fill out the application before I turn 66 I will be deemed to be filing prior to my FRA. Some information on How To File a Restricted Application with specifics on what to enter and what dates to avoid would be extremely helpful.

  9. Sue Crumley says:

    I turn FRA (66) on April 26, 2017. lady at SS office yesterday told me I could file early for my benefits before end of Dec 2016 and reduction would be “only” $52 per month. Her point was to start taking 4 months early would garner around 9K for Jan/Feb/march/April. She seemed to think that would make a lot of sense and provide a lump sum up front that would take a long time to offset if I waited until my actual birthday.
    I told her I wanted to think about it. Your Thoughts?

    1. jblankenship says:

      $52 per month is $624 per year. If you live to the “average” around age 82, this means you’ll be giving up $9,984 in total benefits (no inflation calculated in). Of course if you live longer, say to age 90, the reduction amounts to $14,976 in total.

      It’s your call – is $9k now better than $14k later?

      1. Sue Crumley says:

        I think I will live to 90 and wait for the long term benefit. :). I am not in dire straights.
        Thank you for reply and confirmation.

  10. susan Douglas says:

    my husband will turn 66 in February 2017 (birth year 51)with a $2200 payment and is thinking about doing a Restricted Application and then not taking his own benefits until 70. I will turn 62 in 2018 would I then apply for spousal benefits and suspend my own ss payment of $882 increasing my own benefit to $1300 at age 70.Or does he need to be receiving his benefits before I can claim spousal benefits. Is it possible for me to take spousal benefits and him to claim his own benefits at the same time while my account grows and then we both claim our own benefit when I reach 70?

    1. jblankenship says:

      You will not be eligible to receive spousal benefits based on your husband’s record while his is suspended, for two reasons: 1) you were born in 1956 (must have been born in 1953 or earlier to file a restricted application); and 2) a restricted application is only allowed after you’ve reached Full Retirement Age (66 years and 4 months for you).

      In your circumstances your husband doesn’t need to do anything to delay his benefit to age 70. However, if you choose to take your reduced benefit at your age 62, he could then file a restricted application (he was born before 1954 and he’s over Full Retirement Age) to receive 50% of your benefit while he continues to delay his own benefit to his age 70. Then at his age 70 when he files for his own benefit, you could file for the spousal benefit and likely receive a small increase from that. (I wrote “likely” because I don’t have all of your figures to work with, but used what you provided to come up with an estimate.)

  11. Allan Miller says:

    Since Robert filed in June when he reached at age 66, to receive the “excess” benefit, does he need to file again or does SSA calculate automatically?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, Robert would need to file for the excess benefit because deemed filing doesn’t apply to him. If he was born after January 1, 1954 the excess would automatically start for him.

Get involved!

Discover more from Getting Your Financial Ducks In A Row

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading